A Short Response to Makode AJ Linde’s Inappropriate N*gger Cake
(seen here http://jezebel.com/5902672/swedish-official-gleefully-cuts-racist-black-lady-cake-crowd-laughs–laughs)
Firstly, I want to start off by saying I respect artists and art and I believe creative expression is an important vehicle for change and social commentary. I think that I understand what Makode Linde was trying to accomplish – a projection of western ideals regarding African women and female genital mutilation – however, I believe that the artist greatly missed the mark for the following reasons:
A) Sometimes, when you attempt to deconstruct stereotypes – you end up reinforcing them.
Linde applied minstrel paint to their face for this creative piece. I will not enter into the debate of whether or not someone who is bi-racial or lighter skinned and is blackening their face, is performing ‘black face’ (or not). However, what Linde has created is an essentialized African woman. The proportions of her body are strange. In fact, she seems disturbingly (dis)embodied. Simply re-constructing a trope (the savage black woman) does not make one critical!
B) It’s a gendered issue, which Linde disregards
Unlike others, I will not refer to Linde with male pronouns as Linde identifies on Facebook as gender neutral and I respect that. However, Linde is not a woman. Having never experienced something as specific as Female Genital Mutilation, can Linde really speak to it? Did Linde sit down with several women from different African countries to hear their perspectives on the piece? Likely not. In the future, it might be a good idea to get a lot of feedback from the population you are trying to represent.
C) It appropriates women’s pain.
The fact is that the cake takes away from and dehumanizes real women that have undergone FGM. Linde has taken their pain and transformed it into a spectacle. Though this piece was provocative, it’s not at all subversive. Why? Due to the make-up of the audience. Linde did not do this as a misguided attempt to show solidarity at an African Women’s Right Movement. This piece was delivered to a room full of white people who were entertained by the real pain of women. In the end, all this piece really does is re-package a stereotypical ideal of blackness for the literal and figurative consumption of whiteness.
D) FGM has a preferred term, it’s female circumcision.
In some parts of the world, female circumcision is not as gruesome as the screaming cake project. A radical thought: let’s not completely remove these womens’ agencies – perhaps in the countries/regions where the ritualistic cutting is not so severe, a woman does not always object to the process, despite the what the agony of the ‘cake woman’ tells us.
E) Linde has condoned racism.
Simply by virtue of being black, Linde has condoned racism. Although the images of the cake women are appropriative and essentializing, depicting them is now sanctioned. Linde’s blackness acts as an authentication to concretize and consequently validate these images. Additionally, whites can claim that this performance piece cannot possibly be racist because someone who is black has constructed it. Unfortunately, there are self-hating people, ignorant people and ill-informed people who should not be counted on to represent everyone in their group. It is racist to assume a black person must speak truly for blackness or that there is a singular blackness to represent.
F) Implicit vs. explicit racism
Though the cultural minister speaks out against racist policies, she partakes in this performance piece. I think this speaks to the hypocrisy of equity practices. Equity is a set of imperialistic rules of what to say and how to act. This performance piece reifies what the cultural minister already knows in her racially constructed hierarchy. The cake is not a caricature for her or anyone in the room, it is an epistemic validation of what knowledge they already hold true – whiteness is civil, blackness is primitive. Black bodies are to be used, dismembered and consumed for the pleasure and entertainment of whites. This I believe is illustrated through their light-hearted and unaffected attitudes. I think it’s fair to say, if you don’t find this horrific or even mildly off-putting, you might be racist.
E) bell hooks on Eating The Other
The physical act of dismembering a ‘primitive’ woman while she lays naked, vulnerable and helpless; while people engage in the tactile act of eating her genitals – the experience is no longer simply one of exposure, but becomes also the consumption of desire. hooks writes (Eating The Other ,1992: 21),“Cultural taboos around sexuality and desire are transgressed and made explicit as the media bombards folks with a message of difference no longer based on the white supremacist assumption that “blondes have more fun.” The “real fun” is to be had by bringing to the surface all those “nasty” unconscious fantasies and longings about contact with the Other embedded in the secret (not so secret) deep structure of white supremacy. In many ways it is a contemporary revival of interest in the “primitive,” with a distinctly postmodern slant’.